Lutes storm to Whitman Volleyball Invitational championship

The nationally 17th-ranked Lutes overcome a first-game loss to down the hosts and win the title.

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WALLA WALLA - The home team landed the first punch early Sunday evening, but it was Pacific Lutheran storming back in Sherwood Center for a 3-1 victory (20-25, 25-14, 25-20, 25-19) and the championship trophy of the Whitman College Volleyball Invitational.

The Lutes, ranked No. 17 nationally in one NCAA Division III preseason poll, won all four of its tournament matches, improving to 5-0 on the season.

Runner-up Whitman lost in three competitive games to the Lutes earlier in the day and finished the tournament with a 2-2 record.

Pacific Lutheran's Kelsie Moore, who had 12 kills and 14 digs in the championship game, was named the tournament MVP.

Teammate Erin Bremond, who stung the Missionaries with nine kills, also was named to the all-tournament team.

Whitman sophomores Courtney Brewer and Carrie Cecil, along with Menlo's Mia Ortiz and Puget Sound's Brynn Blickenstaff and Juliette Witous, rounded out the all-tourney squad.

The Missionaries took charge in game one with leads of 6-2, 10-6 and 13-9. After Pacific Lutheran rallied for a 17-15 advantage, Whitman ticked off five straight points to regain command.

The Lutes closed to within 21-20 on Sarah Beaver's kill, but kills by Cecil and first-year outside hitter Jillian Davis, coupled with two PLU attack errors, gave Whitman the first game.

Pacific Lutheran bolted to leads of 7-2 and 10-4 and never trailed in game two. Blair Bjorkman's service ace and a block at the net by Bremond and Rose Mattson accounted for the final two points.

Three Whitman attack errors and a bad set helped the Lutes grab an 8-1 cushion to start game three. The Missionaries scratched back to within 13-10 on Cecil's kill, but Pacific Lutheran reclaimed command at 17-10 and 23-15.

With Davis slamming two kills, Whitman won four of the next five points to draw closer, but Melissa DeWalt's kill handed the Lutes the game and a 2-1 lead.

The Missionaries returned to their game-one form in the fourth set, taking early leads of 3-0, 10-6 and 14-9. Back came the Lutes, getting kills by Kelsey Pacolt and Moore to spark an 8-1 spurt that put the visitors in front 17-15. PLU added three of the next four points and held Whitman at bay the rest of the way.

Davis paced Whitman's offense with a game-high 15 kills and team-high 14 digs. Cecil was good for 11 kills while Brewer combined nine kills with eight digs and five block assists.

First-year setter Rachel Cline had 38 assists and eight digs. The Missionaries finished with 19 block assists, getting four apiece from sophomores Olivia Nielson and Rachel Shoberg.

Pacific Lutheran took the three-game victory, 25-23, 25-20, 25-22 over the Missionaries earlier Sunday to set up the title match.

The Lutes enjoyed a huge advantage at the service line, pocketing 11 aces against just three errors. Whitman gave away nine points at the line while converting just three service aces.

Blair Bjorkman led the victors in the back row with 14 digs. Moore added 10 more, and setter Sarah Beaver bounced back from an early collision with a teammate to hand out 19 assists.

Davis and sophomore Rachel Shoberg had 10 and nine digs for Whitman. First-year setter Rachel Cline distributed 24 assists.

Whitman continued its strong defensive play at the net with 16 block assists. Sophomore Olivia Nielson had five while Bell, Brewer and Cline had three each.

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